The Grand Palace was started by King Rama I (1782 - 1809), the first king of the Chakri Dynasty. The palace then became the administrative capital of Thailand, as well as the residence of the King and the Emerald Buddha.The Buddha was discovered in the 15th century in the northern town of Chiang Rai covered in plaster it was brought to Bangkok in the late 18th century by the future king Rama I, who was then serving as general under Tok Sin, the last ruler of the previous dynasty. After he became king he moved the capitol to Bangkok and in 1782 constructed Wat Phra Keow, commonly called the Temple of the Emerald Buddha to house the Emerald Buddha. This is one of the most venerated sites in Thailand. As each king ascended to the throne they made changes to the palace.
Significant renovation was carried out by King Rama III. He was the son of a concubine not the queen but became king when the legitimate heir became a monk.During his reign, there was a series of wars with Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Rama II was responsible for a number of the inscriptions and mural paintings created in order to preserve the traditional culture of Thailand.
The complex consists of the Royal residence, throne halls and government offices. There are four groups of palaces with the Chakri Maha Prasat being the largest and most famous. Erected by King Rama V as his own residence in 1882, it consists of3 storeies incorporating a mixture of Thai and Western architecture. The lower parts, designed by a British architect, are in the Imperial Victorian style while the top section is pure Thai with its tiered sloping roofs and tapering spires. The Boromphiman Hall was built by King Rama V for Crown Prince Vajiravudh as his residence and is now used to accommodate visiting foreign heads of state.
Adjacent to the palaces is the temple of the Emerald Buddha and other buildings, monuments and stupas. The complex is surrounded by galleries with their walls being decorated with scenes from the Ramakien , Thailand's National epic from the Hindu epic the Ramayana. Around the complex are a number of the Mythological beings, half-animal / half-celestial beings. Also to be seen is a spire in the form of a Thai crown, made of Stucco and covered with Chinese porcelain. This came from crockery broken in transit and made into flowers. After the Khmer were defeated by the Thai's, King Rama IV wanted to move one of the Khmer temples from Angkor in Cambodia to Thailand although instead he ordered the construction of a miniature replica which can still be seen.
Unlike most monasteries, there are no monks’ resident at Wat Phra Keow. The temple is for the exclusive use of the royal family and only the king is permitted to approach the statue which is dressed in robes by the King in a ritual three times a year. The royal family lived in the palace until the 1920’s. It was opened to the public in 1959.
A Temple in Thailand is called a Wat and is classified as a Royal Temple - which is official recognition of a temple's legitimacy – or a Common Temple. The Wat is usually in enclosed grounds giving it an aurora of peace and calm. Inside the grounds the image of the Buddha is kept in a hall which is called the Bot, this is where people pay their respects to the Buddha by lighting candles and incense sticks and praying before the Buddha image.
A myriad of Temples are scattered around Bangkok and several can be visited in a day, certainly any visit to Bangkok should include:
•Wat Phra Kaew - Temple of the Emerald Buddha
•Wat Pho – Temple of the Reclining Buddha.
Wat Phra Kaew - Temple of the Emerald Buddha is regarded as the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand and is located within the Grand Palace (see article on Grand Palace above for its background). Housed in the central ubosoth, (the holiest prayer room, also called the ordination hall) the Emerald Buddha, a dark green statue, about 66 centimetres (26 inches) tall, carved in the meditating posture from a single jade stone (Emerald in Thai relates to a deep green colour and not the specific stone). Raised high on a series of platforms, it is dressed by the King with a seasonal cloak which is changed three times a year to correspond to the summer, winter, and rainy season.
The temple consists of over 100 brightly coloured buildings, golden spires and glittering mosaics with numerous attractions including the impressive golden Phra Si Rattana Chedi, a stupa which it is claimed houses ashes of the Buddha; the Phra Mondop, library, which is known for its mother-of-pearl doors and bookcases containing the Tripitaka (sacred Buddhist manuscripts), human- and dragon-headed nagas (snakes), and statues of Chakri kings. Around the building are large statues of mythical creatures such as the kinaree, half human-half bird and the Hindu garuda bird. It also includes the cloister, which contains mural paintings depicting scenes from the famous epic "Ramayana". This is the world’s longest wall painting and tells the Ramayana epic in its entirety. In total there are 178 sections, and although they date from the reign of King Rama IV (1825 - 1850) they have been restored on numerous occasions. Each gate of the cloister is guarded by the five-metre tall 'Yaksa Tavarnbal' (Gate-keeping Giants), depicted in the epic.
A model of Angkor Wat, built under the order of King Rama IV when Cambodia was under Siamese control can be seen.The model was later recreated in plaster on the instructions of King Rama V to celebrate the first centenary of the Royal City.
Wat Pho - Temple of the Reclining Buddha is the biggest and oldest temple in Bangkok and contains 95 pagodas (a tiered tower with multiple eaves), the largest number in the city.Situated just across the road from the Royal palace, it was established in the 16th century, but it wasn’t until the early 1800s that it was opened to the public as a place for learning when it offered courses in such subjects as literature, archaeology, astrology and medicine. Today it is still the College of Traditional Medicine and incorporates a school for Thai massage.
Located in the temple is the Reclining Buddha, which fits snugly into the purpose built building although its size makes it difficult to fully appreciate the statue. It is one of the largest images of the Buddha in the world and measures 46 metres (150 feet) long and 15 metres (50 feet) high. Completely gilded, the soles of its feet are intricately inlaid with mother of pearl in a design which represents the 108 signs which identify someone as enlightened.
Also in the temple grounds is the gallery which features more than 400 Buddhas and a bronze Buddha which sits on a high, gilded pedestal.The towers and spires throughout the temple complex exhibit exquisite mosaic work while the rock gardens contain rocks which were once used to teach geology.
Wat Indravihan is famous for a huge standing Buddha image of Buddhasiariyametriya also known as "Luang Pho To". The statue was started in 1867 in the reign of King Rama IV and took over 60 years to complete. Rising to a height of 32 metres (109 feet) and 10 metres (40 feet) wide it is decorated in glass mosaics and 24-carat gold. The topknot of the Buddha image contains a bone relic of the Lord Buddha brought from Ceylon, current day Sri-Lanka.